Here’s How Gavin Could Make His Big Four Appointments

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The much-discussed contest over who Gov. Newsom names to fill Kamala Harris’ Senate seat—a contest in which I remain the best choice—is about far more than one appointment.

In fact, it’s starting to look like the governor will get to make a Big 4 of appointments to elected office. And on top of those, he’s likely to be able to remake much of his senior staff, as some aides are likely to head to Washington.

Who are the Big 4? Let’s offer a fearless set of predictions.

He starts by picking Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill the Harris seat. Padilla is the favorite and would make a good senator. That’s big pick #1. That would open up Padilla’s job, for which there are many great candidates across the state. My best guess is that the job goes to Jay Nath, the former chief innovation officer for San Francisco, and now the co-CEO of a non-profit that helps government be more effective. If not Nath, look for Jen Pahlka, the Code for America founder, or a top legislator like Toni Atkins to get the gig. That’s big pick #2.

The other two picks depend on the decisions of others, but decision-making is moving in a Newsom-friendly direction. 

Dianne Feinstein, in giving up her committee assignments, seems to be signaling a retirement. If she quits in January, look for Newsom to appoint U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, or San Francisco Mayor London Breed to the job. I’d pick Bass if I were him, though Breed offers someone younger—and that’s important to building seniority. That’s big pick #3.

Finally, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra is looking more and more like a top contender for a Biden administration job, including perhaps U.S. Attorney General. His departure would open up big pick #4. That would be a very open race, with all sorts of attorney-politicians who have been active in Propositions 47 and 57 reforms seeking the job. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo might get strong consideration, though, if I had to bet, I’d put my money on San Joaquin County district attorney Tori Verber Salazar, a very progressive prosecutor.

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